No. 4 LSU Surprises No. 3 Oregon at Cowboys Stadium

By STEPHEN HAWKINS
|  Sunday, Sep 4, 2011  |  Updated 12:02 AM CDT
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Jarrett Lee admirably directed LSU's offense in place of suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson and missing cornerback-punt returner Cliff Harris was too much for Oregon to overcome in a rare season-opening matchup of top-five teams on a neutral field.

Lee threw for a touchdown, on a pass against the freshman defensive back filling in for Harris, and fourth-ranked LSU defeated the No. 3 Ducks 40-27 Saturday night while converting three of Oregon's four turnovers into 20 points.

Michael Ford and Spencer Ware had touchdown runs in a span of 3:20 late in the third quarter after third-string Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas fumbled on consecutive touches, one on a rushing attempt and then on the ensuing kickoff.

It was the Tigers' second consecutive game at Cowboys Stadium. They ended their 2010 season there in January with a 41-24 victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl when Jefferson passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score.

But Jefferson is now suspended indefinitely, as is reserve linebacker Josh Johns, because they are facing felony charges of second degree battery stemming from a bar fight near campus last month.

Harris, who can be found on most preseason All-America teams, was suspended in June after police caught him driving 118 mph, and also having a suspended license at the time.

Oregon, which lost to Auburn in the BCS national championship game last season, has consecutive losses for the first time since they losing its last three regular-season games in 2007.

LSU took a 16-13 lead just before halftime, going ahead to stay, on Rueben Randle's 10-yard TD catch from Lee.

Randle caught the ball in the front corner of the end zone over freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell -- in the spot Harris would have been playing on defense.

The other LSU touchdown before halftime came when fill-in punt returner Kenjon Barner fielded a punt inside the 5, took a couple of steps backs. That's when Tyrann Mathieu stripped the ball away, scooped it up after it bounced on the turf and took a couple of steps into the end zone.

LSU has won 34 consecutive nonconference games, the longest such streak in the nation, including all 23 in the regular season under seventh-year coach Les Miles. The overall streak dates back to the Tigers' 26-8 loss to Virginia Tech in the 2002 season opener.

"Our football team is united. They play together," Miles said. "You put a ball on the line and they'll scrap you for it. This is a great group of guys."

Lee's 10th career start was his first since a win over Louisiana Tech in 2009. Even though the senior completed only 10 of 22 passes for 98 yards, he didn't have an interception and appeared steady throughout the game.

The lone turnover by LSU came when Lee stepped up toward the line to point out a pending blitz, at the same time the ball was snapped behind him. Barner recovered, setting up Rob Beard's second field goal to give Oregon a 6-3 lead.

Ware had 26 carries for 99 yards while Fort had 14 runs for 98 yards and two TDs, his second on a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter.

LaMichael James had one of the worst games of his Oregon career, even though he scored a touchdown for the 12th time his last 13 games. James had 18 carries for 54 yards, only five more than he had against Auburn in the national title game. Before that, his worst game had been 22 yards in his first-ever game for the Ducks.

De'Anthony Thomas scored on a 4-yard run in the final minute of the first opening game of top-five teams on a neutral field since 1984, when Jimmy Johnson won his debut as coach of Miami against an Auburn squad featuring Bo Jackson a year before he won the Heisman Trophy.

Thomas' first turnover came when big defensive end Sam Montgomery reached in and stripped the ball away. The ball popped directly into the hands of safety Eric Reid.

After Ford scored on a 5-yard run, Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff. Craig Loston punched the ball out and then recovered it.

Ware scored on his second consecutive 1-yard run to make it 30-10.

Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas was 31-of-54 passing for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Tigers were also without receiver Russell Shepard, who was suspended for at least this game because he discussed another NCAA inquiry with a teammate. He was third in receiver and fourth in rushing for LSU last season.

Besides the legitimate national title hopes both teams had, they had a tie in ongoing NCAA investigations into their dealings with Willie Lyles, who ran a Houston-based service that provided scouting reports of high school players.

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